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Home around the world Unique New Year’s traditions around the world

Unique New Year’s traditions around the world

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new yearsNew Year’s Eve in NYC.REUTERS/Henny Ray Abrams

  • New Year’s traditions vary around the world.
  • In Scotland, they swing large fireballs around on New Year’s Eve. 
  • Brazilians release white flowers into the ocean for the Goddess of the Sea. 

 

New Year’s Eve is a practically universal holiday that’s often celebrated with fireworks, parties, and a toast to a happy and healthy year to come. But different countries around the world ring in the New Year with unique cultural traditions.

INSIDER has rounded up some of the most fascinating New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world.

From a Brazilian offering of white flowers to the Sea Goddess to magical bear dances in Romania, these New Year’s traditions are all supposed to bring good fortune and prosperity in their own unique way.


In Stonehaven, Scotland, people wield large fireballs for the Hogmanay festival on New Year’s Eve to ward off evil spirits.

The most famous of Scotland’s many New Year’s Hogmanay fire festivals is the one in Stonehaven, where right before midnight a parade of trained professionals swing balls of fire over their head and then toss them into the sea. 

The tradition dates back over 100 years, and many believe it’s based on a pre-Christian ritual meant to purify and ward off evil spirits. Some believe that its timing with the winter solstice signifies that the fireball actually symbolizes the sun. 

Burmese people mark the New Year with the Thingyan water festival, a type of cleansing ritual.

The Thingyan water festival takes place in mid-April and marks the arrival of Thagyamin, a celestial Buddhist figure, on Earth with the firing of many water cannons. The streets are usually flooded with sprinklers and people celebrating, and the soggy celebrations last until  New Year’s Day.

The water is meant to “wash away” the bad luck and sins of the previous year, and to begin anew through this cleansing ritual. 

In Siberia, trees are planted underneath frozen lakes and rivers on New Year’s Eve as a symbol for starting over.

In Siberia, brave divers plant the New Year’s Tree underneath frozen lakes — sort of like a polar plunge.

Much like a Christmas tree, the Siberian New Year Tree (or yolka) is supposed to signify the coming of Father Frost, but its planting also symbolizes starting over. The jumping-into-a-frozen-lake challenge is just another addition to the year-end festivities.

In Spain, 12 grapes are eaten at midnight to ward off bad luck for the New Year.

At midnight, practically every Spaniard will stuff their mouths will 12 grapes — one each second after midnight — for good luck in the new year. Every grape represents one month of the year, and must be eaten right at the stroke of midnight. If you don’t manage to eat all 12 grapes, it’s considered bad luck. 

In the United States and Canada, a midnight kiss on New Year’s Eve seals your fate for the year to come.

In the United States and Canada, a midnight kiss on New Year's Eve seals your fate for the year to come.

A couple kissing at midnight.Unsplash

In many Western cultures, especially North America, kissing someone special at midnight dates back to Medieval superstitions that stated the first person you saw on midnight on the New Year would set the tone for the coming year. 

Brazilians throw white flowers into the ocean on New Year’s Eve as an offering to the Goddess of the Sea.

In Brazil, many locals believe in wearing white and throwing white flowers and candles into the ocean as an offering to Iemanja, the pagan Afro-Brazilian Goddess of the Sea, on New Year’s Eve. If the ocean returns your offerings, then the goddess did not accept them (but there is no penalty if Iemanja rejects the offerings).

The offerings of white flowers and candles are meant to appease the Goddess of the Sea, who is known for blessing mothers and children. Offerings to Iemanja are also said to bring prosperity for the new year.

People paint their front doors red for good luck in the New Year in China.

For the Chinese New Year (this year it’s Friday, February 16), painting your door red (or placing red cutouts on your windows and doors) is considered to be a sign of good luck for the coming year.

Red is the luckiest and happiest color in China, and is therefore the most popular color to be worn or displayed during celebrations like weddings and for Chinese New Year. 

It’s considered good luck to smash plates on New Year’s Eve in Denmark.

In Denmark, broken glass is meant to bring good luck, which is why locals smash their (broken or unused) china and drop it onto a friend’s front step, to bring them good fortune in the new year. The bigger the heap of broken glass on your doorstep, the more popular you are.

In Italy, people wear red underwear to be lucky in love in the new year.

Red is the color of love and fertility in Italy, so young men and women will usually don undergarments of that color on New Year’s Eve. 

But in Argentina, pink underwear heralds in a year of romance.

Wearing a specific color underwear for good luck in love is not just a tradition in Italy. In Argentina, if you wear pink underwear on New Year’s Eve, you’re looking for love. 

In Colombia and Ecuador, people set dummies or scarecrows on fire for the New Year to leave the bad behind.

For los años viejos, people make large puppets or scarecrows that look like people they dislike or those who have died in the past year. Then it’s out with the old and in with the new, as they burn these effigies on New Year’s Eve to leave the bad in the past.

New Year’s bells are rung exactly 108 times at midnight throughout Japan for good luck.

Joya no kane is the traditional ceremony of bell-ringing on New Year’s Eve in Japan. The tradition dates back to Buddhist beliefs, where the bells are rung 108 times to represent each of the worldly desires or sins of that religion. The ceremonies are usually held at Buddhist temples. 

In Germany, everyone eats “krapfen” or filled doughnuts, on New Year’s Eve.

Whether you call it krapfen, Kreppel, Krebbel, or Berlinerthe German doughnut is an important addition to Silvester (New Year’s Eve) celebrations.

They’re usually filled with fruit jam or chocolate, though sometimes they are filled with mustard as a prank on unsuspecting friends and guests. 

Doughnuts were traditionally only eaten on special occasions like Silvester when sweets were a rare and expensive treat that few could afford. 

People throw furniture out the window on New Year’s Eve in Johannesburg, South Africa, in order to get a fresh start.

If you’re celebrating New Year’s Eve in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, watch out for flying furniture. Throwing furniture from tall buildings has been condemned as a hazardous tradition in recent years, and the tradition is not as common as it once was. 

People used to stockpile old fridges, couches, and more in the weeks leading up to New Year’s Eve. Throwing old furniture out of windows is supposed to symbolize casting away old problems and getting a fresh start.

In Greece, an onion is hung on the front door on New Year’s Eve to signify rebirth and regrowth.

On Protochronia or New Year’s Eve, hanging an onion on your door signifies rebirth and regrowth.

This unusual tradition refers to the squill (sea onion): a poisonous plant that grows in Crete and resembles a large onion. The squill will continue to grow new leaves and flowers even when uprooted. By placing an onion or squill on their front door on New Year’s Eve, the people of Crete and Greece believe that some of the plant’s resilience and good luck will rub off on them. 

The morning after, parents wake their children by smacking them in the head with the onion to make them get up for church service. 

In Chile, people spend the night in cemeteries to ring in the New Year with loved ones who have died.

In the Talca region of Chile, entire families gather in cemeteries to ring in the New Year with their relatives, much like Mexico’s Day of the Dead festivities. 

In Turkey and Armenia, pomegranates are thrown for good luck.

Opening a pomegranate on New Year’s Eve in Turkey is supposed to signify wealth and prosperity in the coming new year, while in Armenia pomegranates are thrown on the ground for good luck.

The more pieces and seeds spread on the ground, the more successful the new year will be. The color and shape of the pomegranate is said to resemble the human heart and symbolizes life, fertility, and health. 

People dress up like bears and dance on New Year’s in Romania to ward off bad spirits.

What began as a pagan ritual to ward off bad spirits has become a unique New Year’s Eve tradition in Romania. During the “dance of the bear,” dancers dress up as bears that are native to the Romanian forests and gypsies who chain the bear, to represent both the death of the old year and the coming of the new one.

 

Estonians eat 7, 9, or 12 times on New Year’s Eve to ensure food abundance in the upcoming year.

In Estonia, the numbers seven, nine, and 12 are considered good luck, and if a man (or woman) feasts that many times on New Year’s, he or she will have prosperity and the strength of seven, nine, or 12 people in the coming new year. Modern interpretations of this tradition allow for people to indulge in seven-course feasts instead. 

Ecuadorians run around the block with an empty suitcase for good luck in their travels during the new year.

If you’re looking to travel well this year, don’t forget your suitcase walk or run. While Ecuadorians will run around the block with an empty suitcase, it’s equally acceptable to carry your suitcase in and out of your front door 12 times if you don’t feel like running, according to the Ecuadoran publication, Gringo Tree.



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